Picking the right accommodations can have a big impact on your trip, especially when travelling with a baby. In our pre-baby life, our criteria were mainly a clean, safe hotel in a good location for a good price. When we travelled with our daughter as a baby and especially as she got older, everything changed. Though the original criteria was still very important, we also needed to know if a crib was available, was the hotel near a lot of nightclubs, would the room be able to accommodate us and all our gear…
We thought finding the right hotel room was time consuming before! It is even more so now as we find ourselves critically investigating the pictures of the hotel or apartment online to try to determine the actual size of the room and where the crib placement might be!
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The truth of the matter is that traveling with a baby and/or toddler means spending more time in hotel rooms or rented apartments. Babies and toddlers nap and some have early bedtimes. So it’s important to find a space that will work for your family. Initially, we were able to manage with a hotel room during our trips. It wasn’t until our daughter was around 10 months and we shared a very small hotel room in NYC that we decided to look for other options. Prior to that, with the clever use of a noise machine, bathroom fan, crib placement and staying out of her sight, we had managed to get her to sleep in our room.
This brings us to the first decision in finding the right accommodations:
Decide on a hotel room or an apartment
With the increasing popularity of apartment rentals by owner, travellers now have a legitimate alternative to staying in a hotel. This is especially important for travelling families, who need more space at a lower price. The infographic below gives the pros and cons of each.
Finding the right hotel room or apartment
We have a process that we follow each time we look for accommodations for our trip. Initially, this may seem a little onerous to you, but once you have a clear idea on what you want, you don’t need to get into this much detail every time. We usually have an initial chat about what worked or didn’t the last time so we can improve on that.
1. SET YOUR BUDGET
Accommodations are typically one of the biggest expenses on any given trip, and it is very easy to talk yourself into spending more than you had hoped or can afford. All it takes is to look at a single hotel/apartment outside of your price range and suddenly the ones in your price range look inferior. Avoid this trap by setting your budget ahead of time and do not look at a single place which exceeds it.
Ensure that you have a clear idea of how much you are willing to spend on accommodations during your stay including all extras (taxes, parking, internet, resort fees, etc.).
2. LIST OF AMENITIES
Travelling with small children requires you to spend some time thinking about what amenities you need in your room. Everyone's needs are unique, but here is a good starting point:
- number of rooms
- microwave / fridge
- Wi-Fi / internet
- air conditioning
- free breakfast
- in-room safe
- balcony to relax on while baby naps
- sufficient space for a crib, stroller, etc.
- appearance of being safe for your baby (no loose cords, breakable items, etc.)
Try to be clear up front which amenities are absolute musts and which ones are 'nice to have'. Also keep in mind that certain amenities can be rented (cribs, etc.) if your preferred choice doesn't offer them.
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3. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Carefully choosing the location of your hotel/apartment is especially important when travelling with small children. A central location is perfect, but you want to be aware of any particularly noisy streets. You also don’t want to spend the majority of your trip “in transit” from place to place.
We get a rough idea of our must-see sights then take a look at a map to find a central location to minimize transit time. Depending on where we are going or how many sights we want to see, we will often plot our must-see sights on a map (usually in Google Maps) and “draw” a big circle around them to choose where we want to stay.
4. PRICE VS REVIEWS
Next we follow the steps below to find a well-reviewed hotel or apartment at a decent price within our target location.
There are many excellent online travel sites which enable travellers to book hotels & apartments online. Expedia (for hotels) and AirBNB or VRBO (for apartments/houses) are usually where we start. After entering our criteria for dates, price and number of bedrooms, we will zoom in on the map to find the places close to our preferred location.
Looking at the options, starting with the least expensive first we review each of our criteria to see if anything is missing. Then we’ll look at the pictures (closely). Is there an appropriate place to put the crib? Does it look safe? Are there a lot of breakables, wires, etc.? If it seems like a winner, then our next step will be to see how the previous guests enjoyed their stay...
If we are looking at hotels, we will often make use of TripAdvisor to check reviews. Most other sites will include reviews as part of the listing for apartments/houses.
For hotels: TripAdvisor will rank a hotel relative to its peers in the same destination. We look for hotels which are ranked in the top half of all hotels in the area. TripAdvisor allows you to filter the hotels by ones that have been identified as family friendly.
Look at the specific reviews: Are there significantly more 4 & 5 star ratings than 1 & 2 star ratings? If not, perhaps it's best to look at a different place.
Read the 1 & 2 star reviews: Sometimes people like to complain about really silly or unrelated things. Take a random stroll through the bad reviews and see what people didn't like. If it's because they forgot to pack their toothpaste, then you may not have to worry. If you see a lot of reviews which mention the words "noisy", "dirty", "unhelpful", etc. then perhaps it's best to look for different accommodations.
5. PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER
Often you will find there is not a single perfect selection, so you may need to make some decisions about which choice offers you the best value for the money. If you have a lot of choices, creating a table similar to that below enables you to compare your top contenders at a glance. Often, we narrow it down to 3-4 options and can do the comparison mentally. Even just having your must-haves jotted down next to you can help make sure you don’t overlook something.
What’s great about creating a little chart, is that when you get interrupted half-way through your search (it’s going to happen!) you know exactly where you left off. Otherwise, you’ll forget which ones you looked at.
We follow this strategy every time we book a hotel. It can be time consuming, but we have rarely been disappointed with our hotel choices.
For Barcelona, our 'must have' list included a hotel that was on a quiet street, had a crib and air conditioning. We found a great hotel that met our criteria within walking distance to most of the attractions that we wanted to visit. Our room faced the courtyard and we had no street noise. We also had plenty of room for a crib and stroller plus a balcony to relax on while our daughter napped.
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Our NYC hotel had an excellent location right in the heart of midtown Manhattan. It was within easy walking distance of most attractions and had a small, but useful kitchenette. We asked the hotel for a quiet room and they obliged by giving us a quiet corner unit on a higher floor. Though our hotel was in an excellent location, we found it more difficult to share a room with our daughter as she was going to bed early and more aware that we were still in the room.
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Our London apartment also had an excellent location, just minutes from Trafalgar Square. We loved having a full kitchen and laundry, but the downside was that we were at the mercy of where the apartment was located within the building. Unfortunately, the unit was on the ground floor which exposed us to a lot of street noise.
Having a view of the Eiffel Tower from our bedroom in our Paris apartment was a big draw, as was the laundry and kitchen. The compromise we made here was location - it was a little far from being centrally located to the other main attractions in Paris, but it was a compromise we were willing to make.
We went to a resort in Mexico when our daughter was 18 months. Though we had a balcony, we shared a room with her. This was very difficult since she could easily stand and see us in the room. We would hide in the bathroom while waiting for her to sleep. This was a difficult trip as far as getting her to sleep went!
After our son arrived, we took a couple of trips to Sedona and San Diego. We rented a condo in Sedona and a house near Mission Beach in San Diego. This allowed our daughter to have her own room and the baby to be in our room. Having an entire place to call our own for the week was so nice!
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Picking the right place can feel overwhelming because you want your trip to go smoothly. However, it’s worth the time and effort up front to find the accommodations that will work best for your family.